Orders of the Day — Steel Industry and Road Haulage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th November 1951.

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Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli 12:00 am, 12th November 1951

I have undertaken to conclude my speech so that the Minister who is to wind up may have a quarter of an hour, and therefore I cannot give way.

The first test which I applied to the proposals coming before us is a test which has not yet been referred to by the Ministers who have spoken. Perhaps the Minister who is to wind up will deal with it. Will he indicate to us how any of the proposals would assist the national effort? Do any of the Ministers opposite claim that the proposal in regard to steel will produce a single ton more steel? Neither of the Ministers who have already spoken has said a word about that. Will the Government's proposals make transport more efficient? Will the proposals in regard to coal, steel and transport bring greater efficiency?

The country is faced with the enormous problem of seeking to get more men. The new Minister of Labour has met the Trades Union Congress and is meeting the trade unions and asking for their cooperation, which I am sure he will get. He is faced with a problem which was referred to in the Gracious Speech and has been mentioned in the Debate. There is a desperate shortage of men. Will any of these proposals, which will throw these industries into anxiety and uncertaintly, induce men to enter them? Will they help to recruit workers? That is the test of these proposals, and, judged by that test, these proposals, far from aiding the national effort, will hamper the national effort by causing anxiety and uncertainty in all the industrial areas.

One would have thought that we should have heard from the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken something about the reasons why it is proposed to make these changes at this time. I will deal first with steel. All parts of the House listened to the very able speech which was cogently argued and convincingly put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), who challenged the Minister of Supply to indicate to the House whether the nationalised steel industry and the Corporation responsible for it were failing in their duty.

To begin with, my right hon. Friend indicated to the House that all the time the Bill was discussed in the House and upstairs it was alleged by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that the nationalisation of steel would throw the industry into chaos. We have had no evidence of that today. The Minister of Supply has not said that. When my right hon. Friend made statements about the Corporation, not a single one was denied, criticised or even commented upon by the Minister of Supply.

My right hon. Friend said that the change-over had gone through smoothly and efficiently. The Minister of Supply did not deny that. What becomes of the chaos which was threatened? What about the charges that if we nationalised steel everything would go to pieces and there would be chaos? The change-over has gone through smoothly and efficiently, and there has been none of the disturbance and chaos that right hon. Gentlemen opposite said would take place.

Then my right hon. Friend indicated that the Corporation had carried out very many changes, all of them beneficial. One of them, I am sure the Chancellor will be glad to learn, made a saving for the industry at the rate of £500,000. each year. Is that denied? In nine months the changeover has been carried through smoothly and efficiently and the industry is working under nationalisation smoothly and efficiently. Beneficial changes have been made, one resulting in a saving to the industry of £500,000. Therefore, we are entitled to say in this House and to the country that the Government have not made out the case that nationalisation of steel has failed. On the contrary, it has succeeded. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about production?"] Production of steel increased all the time to the end of last year.

Now I wish to deal with the proposals for road haulage. I put this question to the right hon. and learned Member. Will these proposals give a more efficient transport system? I gather that he is to consult with the Commission. I will quote from a Report issued on 15th January, 1951, by the Chairman of the British Transport Commission on this very question of integration of transport, dealing particularly with road haulage services, and ask the Home Secretary if he pits his view against the view of the Chairman of the Commission which has been carrying through the programme of integration. I quote from a statement by Lord Hurcombe on 15th January this year: The organisation of British Road Services is now broadly complete and 1951 will be a year of consolidation. In under three years, they have merged some 2,900 separate road haulage concerns into a national network, comprising some 40,000 vehicles based upon 1,000 depots and sub-depots, and employing some 75,000 persons. Generally speaking, we claim that this large organisation—the first of its kind attempted in any country—is working smoothly … In the new national organisation. the haulage facilities which if predominantly long distance the Executive were required to take over as they stood, have necessarily been re-grouped and they have regrouped on a territorial basis in a way which did not previously exist … It has been accomplished with virtually no interruption to essential services. It will give traders and manufacturers all over the country the most flexible and easily accessible road transport out of the resources available. I gathered from the Home Secretary that before any steps about the Bill are taken he will consult the British Transport Commission and Lord Hurcomb. That is Lord Hurcomb's view, that the integration of road haulage has been carried through smoothly, efficiently and is now being organised into a great national network. What the Government are proposing is to dismember and unscramble that. Again, I ask the question, is that going to help the national effort? Neither of the two right hon. Gentlemen spent a single moment in the course of this debate showing how any of this would lead to more efficient service to help the national effort.

I come to the electoral point. I am not quite sure whether the new Attorney-General happens to be present this evening. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I am very glad. We discussed in the last House of Commons whether my Government—and we are now discussing whether this present Government—had a mandate from the country. Our mandate was secured in 1945 by the most decisive election in this country for many years. Then we had a dispute as to whether the electoral result in 1950 entitled us to go on with steel nationalisation. The Attorney-General spoke on that matter.

I wish to quote what he said. He was asked a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) on the very point which we discussed during the debate: Would the hon. and learned Gentleman say what was the mandate to repeal the Iron and Steel Act? My hon. Friend was referring to the election of 1950 and to the mandate of 1950. The following was the reply given by the Attorney-General, and I direct the attention of the Minister who is to reply to what he said: There is no question of any mandate to repeal the Iron and Steel Act until the matter is put fairly and squarely to the country in such a way that a decisive answer can be obtained …."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th September. 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1788.]